Study Guide

Alan Bennett

Alan Bennett Biography

Biography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Alan Bennett, one of England’s most popular and critically acclaimed playwrights, was born in Leeds, England, to Walter Bennett, a butcher, and Lilian Mary (Peel) Bennett. He became interested in the arts as a child, attending concerts by the Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra. His military service included a brief stint in the infantry followed by assignment to the Joint Services Language Course to learn Russian, first at Coulsdon, and then at Cambridge University. After serving in the army, Bennett read history at Exeter College, Oxford, taking his B.A. degree in 1957. He continued at Oxford, engaging in graduate studies in history and serving as a temporary junior lecturer in history (1960-1962) but left without completing his doctoral dissertation.

Bennett’s stage career began in 1960 when, having performed comedy routines at Oxford, he joined with three other university men to present a revue of comic and satiric skits, songs, and monologues at Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre in Scotland. Invited to participate in the Edinburgh Festival that year, the four performed their revue, titled Beyond the Fringe. The revue moved to London’s Fortune Theatre in 1961 and to New York’s John Golden Theater the following year. Bennett’s partners went on to successful careers: Peter Cook as a nightclub entertainer, Jonathan Miller as a physician, and Dudley Moore as a pianist and actor. Bennett proved successful in a variety of roles in the theater as well as films and television, including actor, director, and, most important, playwright.

After coauthoring Fortune and Golden in the early 1960’s, Bennett saw his first solo play, Forty Years On, produced in 1968. A satiric yet also affectionate look at the passing of an age, Forty Years On includes a play within a play as a comic revue commemorates the retirement of a veteran headmaster at a boys’ boarding school. The play received a London...

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Alan Bennett Bibliography (Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Games, Alexander. Backing into the Limelight. London: Headline, 2001. Games focuses on Bennett the man, generally sympathetically, despite Bennett’s opposition to this biographical study.

O’Mealy, Joseph H. Alan Bennett: A Critical Introduction. New York: Garland, 2001. The book focuses on Bennett as a social critic while examining works from throughout his career.

Turner, Daphne E. Alan Bennett: In a Manner of Speaking. London: Faber & Faber, 1997. Turner gives special consideration to Bennett’s unpublished television plays.

Wilmut, Roger. From Fringe to Flying Circus: Celebrating a Unique Generation of Comedy, 1960-1980. London: Eyre Methuen, 1980. Wilmut’s discussion places Bennett within the context of his times and in relation to other playwrights.

Wolfe, Peter. Understanding Alan Bennett. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1999. A thorough introduction to the life and writings of Bennett, on a level suitable for students and nonacademic readers.